Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Last year, immunotherapy was hailed as a potential life-saving treatment for deadly bowel cancer
A drug that boosts the effect of an experimental cancer treatment for pancreatic cancer is being tested in patients.
Researchers showed that mice given the drug survived for longer than those given the standard cancer treatment.
Current treatments for pancreatic cancer are not effective, and a trial of immunotherapy aims to enable it to work.
It could help thousands of people killed by the killer disease.
Pancreatic cancer is a particularly deadly disease. About 6,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year, and by 2020, it is expected to claim more than 10,000 lives.
The drug is already being tested in people for treatment of certain types of blood cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed after already developing resistance to current treatments.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat
But experiments by researchers at the University of Leeds have shown that those given the drug blinatumomab saw survival periods extend by 60% compared with those given a standard treatment.
This was achieved by a combination of the drug making its way into the body’s immune system cells, and by increasing the immune response that they generate.
Dr Jana Lundquist, senior clinical research fellow, said: “The benefits of immunotherapy treatments are immeasurable, but to date the long-term success of these treatments has depended on them working better in patients than they do in the laboratory.”
In further experiments, mice injected with melanoma cells and induced to have a specific vulnerability to blinatumomab got much longer lives than untreated mice, and it enhanced the response of a protein in the immune system that it hopes could be a breakthrough.
Discovery of a way to boost immune response, and adapt immune cells in the body to fight cancer, could offer a new option for treatment, say the researchers.
Current cancer treatments work by attacking tumours, blocking cell signalling signals in tumours, and stimulating T-cells, which would then release them to attack cancer cells.
“What we’re suggesting is that the immune cells can do these things on their own,” said Dr Lundquist.
“You take the immune cells, activate them to kill cancer cells, and have them act on their own to do what they were designed to do.”
The research was published in the journal Nature.